Unlike most photographers, she was as famous as her pictures. Margaret Bourke-White was an institution, and personification of the formative years of LIFE magazine. The images she captured are memorable enough on their own: a line of flood victims in Kentucky stretched in front of a billboard braying prosperity; Gandhi at the spinning wheel.
In July 26th 1941, she became the right person at the right place as the German bombardment of the Kremlin began. She was the only foreign photographer in Moscow–she was dispatched there because one of the Life editors, Wilson Hicks, believed that Germany would invade the Soviet Union soon.
Although the Soviet officials had announced that their soldiers would shoot anyone spotted with a camera, Bourke-White was granted an exception. On the night of July 23rd, she went up the American embassy roof where the Soviet air wardens couldn’t see her. At one point, a bomb exploded nearly, blowing every window of the embassy. Bourke-White had the sense to seek the shelter just seconds before.
The above most picture showed the spires of Kremlin silhouetted by German Luftwaffe flare, with the antiaircraft gunners dotting sky over Red Square. The second showed the Kremlin lit up by flares from anti-aircraft shells and seven Nazi parachute flares which provided light for German bombardiers.
All during her stay in the USSR, Bourke-White tried to photograph Stalin; she had been refused the opportunity on her earlier visits. When Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt’s adviser, reached Moscow on July 30, he found Bourke-White already there. The second time he met Stalin on July 31st, he got the permission for Bourke-White to photograph the meeting too.
As I mentioned before somewhere, Lenin didn’t wish to have a mausoleum to him, but Stalin ordered it be done. A design competition was held after it became clear that the attempts to preserve Lenin’s body were successful. Some alleged in 1920s, and 1930s that the body on display in the tomb was a wax dummy and that the embalmers had actually failed in their task, but I would say the process was thought to be successful, just because before Stalin died, he asked his body to be preserved and placed in the crypt alongside Lenin.
Above was a rare picture of the Mausoleum with the Cyrillic lettering denoting ‘Lenin’ and ‘Stalin’. When Stalin died in 1953, his body was placed on temporary display in the Hall of Columns, and thousands of people lined up in the snow to see it. The crowds were so dense and chaotic that some people were trampled underfoot, others rammed against traffic lights, and some others choked to death. Some 500 people lost their lives while trying to get a glimpse of Stalin’s corpse.
On March 9, nine pallbearers carried the coffin from the Hall of Columns onto a gun carriage. The body was then ceremoniously taken to Lenin’s tomb on the Red Square in Moscow. In November 1953, seven months after Stalin’s death, the tomb was reopened. Eight years later, during a period of de-Stalinization undertaken by Krushchev, Stalin’s body was removed under cover of night and buried in a modest tomb alongside the Kremlin wall. Krushchev ordered thick layers of concrete to be placed over the tomb so that Stalin could never rise again. A few weeks later, a simple dark granite stone marked the grave with the very simple, “J. V. STALIN 1879-1953.” In 1970, a small bust was added to the grave.
From the ’50s through the ’80s, the American study of Soviet politics was dominated by the school of Kremlinology. The pictures like the one above were intensely studied by the kremlinologists, for the packing order of the Communist Party and its ruling politburo. They examined the relative position of the Soviet leadership (all waxen, dour-faced apparatchiks) as they stood on Lenin’s tomb during major ceremonies, like May Day and the anniversary of the Great October Revolution.